Tuesday, January 10, 2017


from Sea Quilt by Susan Elliott

During this last cold spell, I received a late Christmas gift from chilly Colorado, home of Pinyon Publishing, the company that published the mystery Chant of Death that I co-authored with Isabel Anders and many of my poems in Pinyon Review. Publishers Gary Entsminger and Susan Elliott sent me a packet of note cards with an illustration Susan rendered — one of a square from Susan's "Sea Quilt," a picture done with watercolor, ink, and thread on 140-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper. The blues in this watercolor express Susan's thoughts of "sensing the ocean in the stillness of snow-covered fields of sagebrush./...The other dimension laps at my ears like the hum of Om."

Susan always writes a long Christmas letter to accompany the gift she and Gary send, and on a cold day here, I visualized her "sitting in my new favorite chair — Mom's Danish rocking chair padded with a Navajo blanket from Dad. Facing the kitchen (aka the apothecary, center of daily dances with the vegetable kingdom) — to my left the wood stove is not lit because the cabin is still warm from last night's fire; to my right, on the counter, sit sprouts (garlic and broccoli) greening and steel-cut oats soaking for oat milk..."

Susan and Gary are vegetarians and eat lots of legumes and vegetables, the latter which they grow on the Uncompahgre Plateau where they live. Many times when one of them e-mails me, they're making tomatillo sauce from home-grown tomatillos. In the Christmas letter, Susan quoted from Thoreau: "Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

We sent this couple pecans from Cane River Pecan Company, which Susan was sampling as the "sky lights up here in pinks and cloudy blues to the west and rising yellows to the east." She says she researched the pecans indigenous to the Mississippi River basin and thinks that they may be "a Centennial variety that was developed in the 1850's by Antoine, a black slave. That variety is believed to have initiated the commercial popularization of the nuts now claimed to be the most popular nut in the U.S. (after the peanut)." Susan also discovered that Indians in Texas considered the pecan tree to be a manifestation of the Great Spirit.

Susan Elliott
When I think of Susan, I think of the word "manifest" because she's always manifesting food, music, art, poems, and good spirits in her life on the Plateau. Susan and Gary are Renaissance people, and their interests are many and varied. Both of them compose, play, and record music, mainly on the guitar and banjo; both are authors and editors. They grow a large vegetable garden every year, are avid believers in sustainability and are stalwart hikers. Susan has a Ph.D. in Botany and rendered the illustrations for Why Water Plants Don't Drown by Victoria Sullivan, published by Pinyon a few years ago. She also sews, bakes a good bread, and is an accomplished herbalist. Some of our Christmas gifts have included exotic seasonings that she mixed and tied in packets for family and friends.

At the end of Susan's Christmas letter, she told us to look out the window for the first birds of the year: Mountain Chick-a-dee, Steller's Jay, and Dark-eyed Junco, which we can't see here in swamp country but can imagine perching on the window sill of her cabin (a residence to which they refer as "The Castle").  A woman who seems to be prepared and enthusiastic for any experience, Susan ended the annual letter with a new year greeting: "We're on our way." And here in south Louisiana, following a frosty week-end, today's 70-degree weather bodes better for "our way."

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